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Brexit: European External Action Service

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 6 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the effect of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European External Action Service, as a result of leaving the European Union, on their ability to (1) shape European Union foreign policy, and (2) project their foreign policy objectives in countries that are not members of the European Union.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my entries in the register.

My Lords, our exit from the EU will enable us to pursue an independent foreign policy. The political declaration sets out the framework for an ambitious, deep and special future relationship with the EU, which will enable us to continue to work closely with our European allies to tackle the common threats we face and to promote the values and interests we share. The deal respects the EU’s decision-making autonomy and the UK’s sovereignty.

I thank my noble friend for her Answer and regret that it is some time since we have seen the Minister. Presumably he is ill, and I am sure we all wish to send our good wishes to him for a speedy recovery.

I point out that we have had 115 British nationals working for the External Action Service and presumably doing some good in spreading Britain’s way of doing foreign policy in the world. Thirty-three have been seconded from the UK Government and are coming back to Britain, but the other 82 are now precluded from taking up any post in an External Action Service delegation abroad. Have the Government thought that this could in any way assist us in projecting Britain’s presence in the world?

Since its launch in December 2010, the EEAS has played an important role in delivering European foreign and security policy, and the UK is strongly committed to ensuring that this continues. We see considerable value in the reciprocal exchange of expertise, including through the secondment of experts. As reflected in the political declaration, we will seek agreement for the secondment of personnel where appropriate and in our mutual interest.

My Lords, there is a lot of aspiration in the political declaration, particularly about maintaining influence, but that aspiration also includes joining many of the EU structures and agencies. Can the Minister tell us whether any assessment has been made of the cost of joining these agencies separately? It is not just losing influence; we will not even be able to determine how much we are paying. Can the Minister answer?

I do not think the noble Lord would expect me to give specifics when they will clearly be a matter for further discussion with the EU under the political declaration. He will be aware that the UK has been pivotal within the EU in developing many of the facilities and agencies that we all value. Therefore, we understand them, are in sympathy with them and have a natural desire in wanting to continue these partnerships where, as I said, that is in our mutual best interest. He will also be aware that the rest of the world looks at the UK not through the prism of being part of the EU, but as being a sovereign state in its own right and a global operator on the world stage. Of course, we have said consistently how we want to develop and strengthen our bilateral relationship with partners in Europe and globally. That is what we shall be endeavouring to do in the months and years ahead.

My Lords, the Minister might recall the major role that Lord Carrington and Geoffrey Howe played in the development of the structures of European foreign policy co-operation. The political declaration is extremely vague on all of this. Do the British Government hope that British Foreign Secretaries will continue to take part in meetings on shared foreign policy co-operation in the European Union and that British officials will continue to take part in the many working parties that have since been developed, or will we be sitting outside the room waiting for the results afterwards?

I suggest to the noble Lord that what matters is not so much particular processes or structures, but working with like-minded partners in whatever formats seem appropriate. As he will be aware, we already work in, for example, the quad and G7 formats, through which we issued statements on Russia, with co-ordinated expulsions by western allies in response to Salisbury. We agreed E3 proposals for sanctions in North Korea, have seen P3 action on Syria and launched the G7 group on hostile interference in democracy. That is just an illustration of how there are various ways of engaging. We can do so bilaterally.

My Lords, the Minister is a very wise lady and she would agree that all the other 27 member states are sovereign countries in their own right as well as the UK, so why are we so childish and anxious to leave the most successful EU organisation? Does she not agree that staying in the European External Action Service is one of the 4,000 reasons why we should remain in the European Union?

I think the noble Lord’s views are well rehearsed in this respect and come as no surprise to the Chamber, although I regret the use of words such as “childish”. We have to acknowledge that the citizens of this country, asked to make a decision, made that decision, a decision which the Government, in my opinion absolutely correctly, are striving to implement and respect.

My Lords, at the moment in overseas posts it is normal for the British overseas representatives to meet their European counterparts and European Union representatives for regular meetings to exchange information. Is it assumed that there will be a formal relationship for this excellent procedure to continue?

As I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the detail of such arrangements and relationships will rest with the future, but as for the spirit in which the UK would approach these vital discussions I have tried to explain that we are in sympathy with many of the agencies, facilities, relationships and partnerships within the EU which have so helped both the EU and the UK. We would certainly want to approach these discussions constructively and in a positive manner.

My Lords, given that the EU is very largely responsible for the tragic situation in Ukraine, can the Minister tell us of any specific successes in Brussels foreign policy?

With the greatest of ease I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, answer that. I have never heard such an extraordinary, illogical connection of unrelated events in my life. I was not aware that it was the EU that aggressively attacked three Ukrainian vessels and took captive their crews. Again, I think we have to be very careful about language in this Chamber.